Step by step – Focus on the details

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Every few weeks I have a conversation with my ‘spiritual’ sensei. Because of my work schedule, I can’t train with him, but I do get the opportunity to speak with him regularly. He has been training for more than 50 years and is very knowledgeable. I enjoy our talks and I get a lot out of them. He gives me informal assignments. He teaches me concepts and I go out and explore them and see how they apply to my martial arts. When I see him again, if I came up with some interesting findings, we discuss it.

This past week we discussed a topic that we have discussed before. What he calls the moves between moves. In terms of kata he is talking about the transition moves between the ‘action’ moves. When one looks at a book to learn kata, that person sees the action moves but does not see the transition moves. There is detail in the transition moves that is easily glanced over. That is why if you want to learn the intricacies of kata, it is important to be taught by a qualified instructor in a dojo. By qualified, I mean someone who knows the intricacies of kata. You can find good teachers that will teach you kata, but my spiritual sensei believes that you are missing a whole other world of martial arts if you just study the surface of kata.

As we have explored in other articles, kata can be used just for sport karate or for belt tests, but kata were developed to teach an entire martial arts discipline. They were developed in a more violent time than today and many times were taught in secret. The karate master would have few students and would teach his entire system through kata. This means that every part of the kata is important. Not just the blocks and strikes but the stances, transitions and even the ‘ready’ position are important. It also means that kata is translatable into your sparring and self-defense.

The more I work with kata, the more I appreciate my spiritual sensei’s insight. There is more to kata than a form to be performed in a tournament. Each piece of the kata has meaning and the only way you can learn those meanings is to drill those segments of kata individually. There are takedowns and joint manipulation techniques intermingled with the strikes and blocks in many of our kata. I am very lucky to have several teachers that teach from different perspectives. Looking at martial arts through all of those perspectives has given me the opportunity to see kata in a new light.

To start your deeper exploration of kata start drilling the pieces of your kata and work with your instructor to make sure you are executing the moves correctly. An example of a common mistake is a strike that looks good when executing the kata but provides no power. When I was working with some students on a kata, the students were executing a kick. This kick should have been a side kick. Instead of a piston action in executing the kick, the kick was more of a weak round kick striking with the toes. It looked okay in the flow of the kata but it was wrong and had no power. To correct it I demonstrated on a bag. First I showed the incorrect way to execute the kick and they were able to see the lack of power. Then, I showed the proper way of executing the kick. The students were able to see the difference in power. Then I had them drill the proper kick until they got it right. You need to be proficient in all of the action moves before you can effectively explore the moves between the moves.

Once you have a strong understanding of the action moves, drill the transition moves. Work with your instructor. Learn all you can about your kata with your instructor. Go to seminars and read books. You may need to go to several sources to get the information you need to explore your kata to your satisfaction. There is always something new to learn. Even after 50 years my spiritual sensei is still excited about training and says he is always learning something new. I am only at about 20% of his training time so if he is still learning new things, I have a lot of learning ahead of me. So do you. Go out train, explore and keep learning.

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